People keep telling me congratulations. They are impressed that I finished the marathon. For me, I’m disappointed. I wanted to run under three hours. Instead, I ran a 3:11. For Boston, I had trained harder than ever in my life. I felt at the very least I would break my PR of 3:06.
It would be easy to chalk it up to the weather, 42 degrees, 20 mph headwinds and rain. Perhaps it was the rain, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe I just had a bad day. It’s hard to say.
. . .
I flew out Friday night. My brother Tom picked me up at Logan and took me to his home in Andover, north of Boston. For the next two days, I was fed and pampered. I had hoped my early arrival would allow me to adjust to the time change. It didn’t. The two hour afternoon nap on Saturday probably didn’t help.
On Saturday, before the nap, I picked up a pair of arm warmers for $4.97 at a local running store. I thought the running gods must be smiling down on me. I then ran easy for 20 minutes and did six strides. My brother then drove me down to Boston and I picked up my bib and the ridiculously overpriced $110 purple Boston Marathon jacket. Thanks B.A.A. for the price gouge. I returned to his home for a lasagna dinner, courtesy of my sister-in-law Julia.
On Sunday morning, my brother joined me for a 30 minute easy run. Then eggs, pancakes, potatoes, bacon, sausage and strawberries. We then went back to Boston and had an early dinner at Bertuccis with a bunch of runners from San Diego. After dinner, I went to my room at the Nine Zero, a hotel in downtown Boston, with a $50 rate courtesy of my brother, the general manager. At this point, things were going too well. Everything was perfect. At some point, something had to go not perfect.
Monday morning I got up. The forecast was vacillating from rain and no rain. I knew in my heart it would be rain. I knew the day would be hard. I hopped in a cab and met Jim McNevin and some others from San Diego at the Buckminster Hotel. McNevin had arranged a limo-bus to take us to the start. We all piled in and the spirits were high. No rain yet. We got dropped off in a parking lot. We then had to board a bus that took us a few miles into Hopkinton. On that bus, rain began to hit the windshield.
Once in Hopkinton, McNevin took all fifteen of us to a friend’s house, a ¼ mile from the start. For the next hour or so, we hung out, ate, used the bathroom and stretched a bit. Besides us, there was another 15 or so runners ready to brave the conditions.
I walked to the start with a woman named Jill and McNevin. McNevin then went one way, Jill and I another. Jill handed me a pack of espresso energy gel and went to corral eight. I was then alone and made my way to corral seven.
It was 9:45 a.m. The race started at 10:00 a.m., with the elite men heading out first. The runners around me started to take off their outer layers. Many of them wearing goodwill specials. I was wearing a Lick-Wilmerding track suit I got back in 1998 when I coached the boys and girls sprint teams. (We took first that year, by the way.) The track suit had sat untouched in my closet for the past 15 years. I figured it was time for it to go.
The national anthem was then sung. At 9:55, I took off the track suit and placed it in a plastic donation bag. No good byes to my old friend. The gun then sounded and the runners in corrals one through eight slowly marched forward to the start line to dual with their destinies. As we crossed the start line, our timing chips activated.
The race then began. Spread out before me was a sea of people. I was bib number 6104, so there was about 6,000 people in front of me. This may not seem like a lot, but the road, for as far as I could see, was filled with people. There was no room to pass or maneuver without much effort.
This was quite different than Carlsbad 2014. I started that marathon in front and within a mile was almost alone. Boston was a different animal. Packed in, the race never really opened up, until we turned onto Boylston, which is the home stretch.
I ran according to plan. 7:24, 7:06, 7:10 for the first three miles. I was running into the race, as there was no warm-up. Mile four: 6:44. Things were good, but in the back of my mind, something was wrong. Although I was trying to run slow, I felt I was running too slow. Then it began to rain and the wind began to blow. I was wearing a singlet, arm warmers, gloves, running shorts, ankle socks, a beanie and Hoka Cliftons. It was not enough. I regretted not wearing my running tights or taking Advil before the race. In retrospect, I’m not sure it would have made any difference.
I continued to run. My clothes slowly became soaked. The first 13 miles I was on pace. 90 minutes. I thought, sub-three is possible, but I knew it wasn’t. I had tossed my gloves around mile 10. That was a mistake as I could now no longer feel my hands. Wet gloves would have been better than no gloves. My quads were also numb. I had no feeling in them. The rain and wind had done their job. I just could not accelerate like I wanted. I was not tired, hungry or red-lining. I just did not have it. This was a miserable feeling. Imagine taking a cold shower in your running clothes and then going running. That was Boston 2015.
The crowds cheered, but I didn’t give a shit. I wished they weren’t there. I wished I was alone, so I could deal with my devastation in solitude. Why were they cheering me? I was failing. For the non-marathoner it seems impressive to run a marathon. For the marathoner, it’s not about running the marathon, it’s about hitting a goal. This was my first taste of defeat.
Carlsbad 2013, goal: finish. I finished. Carlsbad 2014, goal: qualify for Boston. I qualified. Boston 2015, goal: sub-three. I failed. I failed by 11 minutes. Fuck the wind. Fuck the rain. I failed. The watch does not lie.
The last thirteen miles were an exercise in frustration. I tried to run faster. I could for a bit and then the legs slowed. Around mile 17, my left knee began to ache. This was a bit concerning, as I ripped my ACL a few years ago. Not only was the knee aching, it felt like it was grinding. Good times. Worried that I was doing permanent damage to my knee is not a fun way to run a race. But what choice did I have? I had to keep going.
The last five miles I wanted to quit. Meanwhile, my pace kept increasing. Sub-three was out the window. I still had a hope of a PR, but that soon enough fell by the wayside like a crumpled green Gatorade cup.
I kept running and ran down the finishing straight. I didn’t even enjoy that. I was wet, cold and feeling sorry for myself. I managed to raise my arms at the finish and walked into the receiving line. It had been raining, now it began to pour. First up was water and Gatorade. I didn’t need any, I needed a blanket. I was completely wet and shaking. To get the blanket, I had to hobble another 300 meters, past the energy bars, protein drinks, food bags and the medal handout. Word of advice race organizers, hand out the blankets first next time.
Once the blanket was on, I walked with similarly silver clad runners to get out of the race finish area. While walking, I heard race officials on the public address urging us to continue walking forward. Really? Like we wanted to hang out in the street in driving rain, half-naked and shivering? I felt like a character in some futuristic sci-fi movie that was being driven like a cow by aliens that had overcome the planet.
I finally exited the corral and saw my brother. He had my clothes. He dressed me, as my hands no longer worked. We walked about two blocks towards a restaurant where some other runners from San Diego were going to meet. As I limped, my knee grinding, all I could say over and over again, was, “that sucked.” I was laughing like a madman. I saw a pedi-cab. I got in it. Even though the restaurant was now only a block and a half away, I felt like I couldn’t make it.
We got to the restaurant and took a table. I headed into the bathroom. I changed out of my running shorts and into some jeans. I felt like I had just spent the day skiing. Back at the table, I had some clam chowder and drank some beer. For the next hour, my body shook. I’m not sure if I had hypothermia, but if I didn’t, I must have been damn close.
In the restaurant, I saw three of my running buddies from San Diego. The consensus on the marathon: “that sucked.” For me, hands down, the marathon was the worst running experience of my life. Running those last five miles, wet and miserable and knowing the goal I had trained for was unattainable was devastating. I had never worked so hard for anything in my life, to fail was an indictment of myself.
. . .
A day, two IPAs and two Advil later, my mindset has changed. Boston, you may have crushed me for the day, a day and half tops, but with the help of some Lagunitas IPA and a federally approved over the counter pain reliever, I’m done crying. I did finish 4380 out of 30,000 participants. I had improved my starting position by about 1,724 runners. I had run the marathon in a wind adjusted temperature of 34 degrees.
I’m thinking about running another marathon. If I do, I will run under 3:00. Whether I do that at an officially sanctioned marathon or my own North County Coast Bandit Marathon, I will do it.
First step, run more. 50 miles a week just isn’t enough. But it takes time to ramp up the mileage. The body can only absorb so much at a time. I’m still a baby runner, but I know I’m stronger than I was four months ago. Time to keep it going. To that end, I might be pacing Greg Fall in the PCT 50 for about 20 miles on May 9th. Perhaps a bit early to get back on the horse, but in my semi-drunken state it seems like the right course of action.
For an Irishmen, every great idea begins with a pint . . .